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U.N. Report Says World Is 'Not Doing Enough' When It Comes To Climate Change


It's hard not to sound like a broken record when it comes to climate change. Here's what the U.N. said in a new report out today. The world is not doing enough. We have to learn from our procrastination. We cannot afford to fail. Those three statements - and yet, according to the report, countries are failing - failing to cut greenhouse gas emissions and thereby putting us on a path to climate catastrophe. It's just the latest of many dire predictions from the U.N.'s climate scientists in recent years. And to help us make sense of it, we're joined now by Kelly Levin of the World Resources Institute's Global Climate Program.


KELLY LEVIN: Thank you so much.

CHANG: So what's out today is the 2019 emissions gap report. It's this annual report, and I understand that you've been the lead author on it in previous years. Why is this report important?

LEVIN: Sure. So what we know is that the emissions gap, which is this gap between where emissions are headed and where they need to be to avoid the worst climate change impacts - it is large. By 2030 - in just 10 years - we have to cut in half our emissions to meet the temperature targets of the Paris Agreement. And unfortunately, we have delayed action significantly, so greater cuts are going to be required the longer that action is delayed. And while some countries are on track to meet their emission reduction targets, many still are not.

CHANG: President Trump, of course, has started the process of pulling the U.S. out of the Paris Accord. But for other countries, do reports like this one that we're talking about today - do they have any impact? Does public shaming actually work, is what I'm trying to ask.

LEVIN: Yeah, no. It's a great question. I mean, we certainly can add this report to the pile of reports that are clear calls to action. I think the timing of this is important because countries are invited under the Paris Agreement to up their commitments by the end of next year, by the end of 2020. So this is critical because we need to take stock of where we are, where we need to be, and put mounting pressure on governments to up their commitments.

CHANG: Well, what about for the general public? I mean, how effective are reports like these in grabbing people's attention and changing their daily behaviors?

LEVIN: I think that we certainly have a public that is waking up to the climate change impacts around them as well as the lack of action. There is a growing demand for action in climate justice around the world. And if you think about the youth protest right after the climate summit with 7 million people across 185 countries to protest the lack of government action, I think increasingly, we will hopefully see some more action.

CHANG: I'm curious about the choice of language when trying to alert the public about the urgency of this problem - the use, for example, of the word fail in this particular report. Countries collectively failed to stop the growth in global emissions. It reminded me of Greta Thunberg's emotional speech at the U.N. Climate Action Summit earlier this year. Let's take a listen.


GRETA THUNBERG: You are failing us. The eyes of all future generations are upon you, and if you choose to fail us, I say we will never forgive you.

CHANG: Failure - I mean, does the world need more language like that, more Greta Thunbergs, - if we're going to see the kind of rapid transformational action that today's report calls for?

LEVIN: Yeah. I mean, we can't sugarcoat this. And in many ways, we have been failing. If you think about it, since the first UNEP emissions gap report was published in 2010, global emissions have increased around 11%. That is startling, and the impacts unfolding around us are just getting worse and worse. At the same time, what we know is that it is still technically feasible to avoid the worst climate change impacts, but...

CHANG: Our failure is reversible.

LEVIN: Failure is reversible but with tremendous effort. And while there have been examples of rapid change in specific technologies or sectors in the past, there is no precedent in our documented history for the rate of change at the scale that we're talking about for limiting warming to avoid the worst climate change impacts.

CHANG: Kelly Levin is a senior associate with WRI's Global Climate Program.

Thank you very much for joining us today.

LEVIN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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